Moving from Online Audiences to Online Community



This post originally appeared on the Fresh Expressions US Blog.


My Facebook feed is lively on Sunday mornings.

This past Sunday, one friend was preaching in the pulpit of his small rural congregation; the video and audio was low budget, but worked just fine. Another friend (a millennial) preached in High Definition and seamlessly transitioned into a recording of the church organist with lyric slides on the right side of the screen. We are six months into the greatest shift in how the church gathers in our lifetimes and churches of all sizes have adapted their worship services to the realities of the pandemic.


Unfortunately, while most churches have built online audiences, very few have built online communities.

With winter coming quickly and a vaccine still months away, we are not going to be able to return to normal any time soon. While the first six months of the pandemic have been marked by churches discovering how to worship online, I believe the next six months will be marked by churches learning to create community online.



Principles of Online Community


So how do you add a community element to your church’s online presence?

It’s not about producing content, it’s about starting conversations.


Ask Questions


As the host of the online community, create posts every week that ask an open-ended question. This could be a follow up to the sermon that week, a personal check-in question, or something fun and silly. Or you can post a devotional or reflection followed by a question. Finish the post with “comment below” to encourage responses.


Encourage interaction


Behind the scenes, encourage your church members to utilize the online community to ask their own questions or announce upcoming church events. Ask church members to write a devotion and post it in the community on a certain day.


Start a weekly tradition


If you find one type of post that creates a lot of interaction, then do it again! Try a weekly prayer request roundup or a digital lectio divina of Sunday’s scripture reading. Make it the same day every week and a tradition will be born.


Posts at peak interaction times


As a general rule, Monday through Thursday 9 am to 4 pm is prime social media timing for posts. This is when more folks are logged on to social media and therefore more folks will interact with your post. However, be sure to plug your online community on Sunday morning in your online worship service.


Picking your Platform

The next question is where your online community should reside. Here are a few of the most popular platforms for online community:


Facebook Groups:


I highly recommend that every church make a Facebook Group in addition to its Facebook Page. Did you know that posts in a page only reach about 10% of those who have liked your page? Posts in a Facebook group reach far more members due to the Facebook algorithm’s preference for community interaction. You can create a group that is connected to your page and then invite your people into the group. You can also share the group’s link during worship.


Get started with Facebook Groups here.

Helpful tips on Facebook Groups here.


Discord or Slack:


If your church is connecting with younger generations, Discord or Slack are incredible options. They will require a bit more technological proficiency but are quite intuitive. You can create different channels for different types of conversations. Both offer enough features in their free versions to have a thriving community.


Get started with Slack here.

Helpful tips for Slack here.

Get started with Discord here.

Helpful tips for Discord here.


Mighty Networks:


You can create your own social media platform (and an app) with Mighty Networks. What I like about Mighty Networks is that it trains you on how to create a community as you are setting it up. It even has a master class on how to create online community. This option will cost some money depending on how many features you are looking for.


Get Started with Mighty Networks here.

Helpful tips for Mighty Networks here.


Group Texts:


If you have a small church that is tech-illiterate, I reluctantly recommend trying a group text message. Group texts are accessible to a wide number of tech literacy levels. However, they have a high probability of becoming very annoying as your phone could very easily ding all day with new text messages. If this is your only option create some guidelines to help with annoyances (e.g. no texts before 9am or after 8pm, move one-on-one conversations to a separate text message, etc).


Tips for better group text etiquette here.


Conclusion:


Online worship is important. So is online community. In a time of pandemic, we need both. The number of churches who now say that they will maintain an online worship presence after the pandemic is incredibly high. If your church invests some time and resources into developing an online community, I believe you will see the value of continuing online community long after the pandemic ends as well.


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